Is Christianity an opium of the people?

Geoffrey Johnson

Painting by Geoffrey Johnson

Perhaps we’ve all heard the Karl Marx quote that “Religion is the opium of the people”? The idea in that line being that followers of Christ (lumped together with others who trust to a deity or deities) believe what we do because it makes reality – life – easier to handle. To that I say: yes, but also no.

It’s tough to be a Christian (or a ‘Christ-one’, which is where the name Christian comes from). There are many aspects of Scripture that I would not choose or would wish were untrue if I could have things my own way. For example, every now and then I would be allowed to exact my own form of justice or retaliation; it would be okay for me to swear my head off when I’ve really hurt myself; I would perhaps choose a religion or philosophy that embraces more laxity in terms of self-discipline and sexual purity; and I would especially choose a free pass into Heaven for those I love dearly but who are going to end up in Hell if they do not choose Jesus since the punishment for their sins will still be their own to pay. (I pray every day that they will in fact choose Him).

So no, my ‘religion’ has nothing of the supposedly soothing, mind-numbing effects of opium or the like. Opium dulls the mind, whereas the promises of the Bible are truths that have to be claimed through faith – they have to be actively chosen. You do not sink or fall into a trust of the Bible. Rather you take the evidence of the Bible together with the witness of the Holy Spirit and you decide, then hold on. It requires human will. It is by no means some sort of drugged state of mind.

But it is the truth, and the truth cannot be denied – at least not for forever, and not if you wish your present life to be based upon something firm and reliable, versus manmade ideas that shift and change with time.  

Remember the CS Lewis quote I shared the other day?

“If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.”

So it is decidedly tough being a Christian. You cannot choose to believe what you want, handpicking the bits that suit you or appeal to you, discarding the rest. Rather, you accept that truth is as the Bible describes, and you ask God to help you live in and with it.

But, what makes it all bearable – what does indeed bring comfort, but wide-awake, clear-eyed comfort – is the promise of Heaven, extraordinary Heaven, where everything will literally be perfection. In Heaven my relationships will all be beautiful and problem-free, my mind will have no neuroses or ailments, my days will be blissful, my occupations delightful and fulfilling, my sleep sweet and untroubled. My mind will know unlimited peace, my body will be alive as it has never been now on earth, and my heart will thrill every day for eternity.

So while it’s tough being a Christian (and mind that none of the Biblical writers ever said it would be easy – Marx just misunderstood the message of the Bible), the eternal comfort that awaits us is worth every struggle, every tear, every discrimination, every trial, and every heartache.

We have been given certain promises for this lifetime, but most importantly we have been promised Heaven at the end of this short lifespan!

Hebrews 6

17 Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. 18 God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged. 19 We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.

So yes, it’s tough being a Christian. But Heaven awaits us, and I choose that, any day, over anything and everything else!



A related article, quoting C.S. Lewis, whom you all know I admire! Uncomfortable Religion


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